Russian police have arrested an ultraconservative defrocked priest known as Father Sergiy who allegedly told followers to kill themselves, disobey social distancing and face mask orders.
Fr Sergiy was detained in a raid in the early hours of Tuesday, December 29, after clashes between police and his followers which lasted about an hour.
He was arrested during a raid on a women’s monastery known as Sredneuralsk convent near Yekaterinburg, that he had taken control of.
The former priest took over the convent in June after the Russian Orthodox Church banned him from preaching, and refused to leave.
The controversial cleric was barred from preaching in April and then stripped of the right to wear a cross in May after he encouraged the faithful to disobey public health orders.
Speaking to hundreds of his church members,he has denied the existence of the coronavirus pandemic and encourages minors to kill themselves, according to reports.
Russian authorities shut churches to worshippers between April and June, prompting Fr Sergiy to accuse them of co-operating with “forerunners of the Antichrist”.
During his arrest, several people received minor injuries including three nuns.
Later Fr Sergiy’s supporters posted a video message in which he said that he was OK.
“Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do, and even if they do, forgive them anyway,” Sergiy reportedly said as he was arrested.
The charge sheet against Fr Sergiy, published in local news website Ura.ru, says that he “publicly urged no fewer than 10 nuns” to take their own lives and posted a recording of his speech on YouTube.
During the sermon he is seen asking his congregation, which includes children, whether they are ready to “go to the cross” for Russia, their children and their future.
The clergyman was a former policeman, and spent 13 years in a prison colony for murder. He was released in the late 1990s.
Father Sergiy has made numerous controversial claims in the past, including suggesting the Antichrist would soon rise in Russia as a counterpart to President Vladimir Putin. He has criticised laws he disagrees with, including those banning domestic violence and anti-Semitic sermons.